By Mark W. Danielson
By nature, I'm not a night owl, but my profession has made me one. Night flying opens whole new dimensions. “To infinity and beyond,” as Buzz Lightyear would say. On moonless nights over oceans and barren land, the Milky Way is bright enough to mask our planets and constellations. Satellites can be seen tracking across the sky. Aurora Borealis dance while reaching for Heaven. Mushroom clouds light up from within. Large storms resemble nebulas. Australian wildfires and Japanese fishing fleets look like cities. Fireworks are sparks from a grinder’s wheel. My wingtip strobes become lightning.
The rising moon, distorted by the atmosphere, appears flaming orange. Flying east, shooting skyward at an alarming rate, it turns bright white. Full moons illuminate snow-capped mountains, cloud formations, airplane contrails, and bodies of water. Flying west, it sets slowly while the morning sky races to catch up.
Night flying has made me a vampire, my need to sleep before sunrise overwhelming. On good days, hotel maids won’t wake me until I’ve slept four hours, the “Please Do Not Disturb” sign on my door universally translating to “Please Vacuum Here Twice”. Working the back side of the clock has its challenges, but walking the streets of Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney, Paris, Dubai, Cologne, and so many others when I awake makes up for it. Mine is an odd, gypsy lifestyle, living in hotels five months out of each year, but it’s a wonderful life. Things I witness inspire me to write and my layovers provide the time. Night flying is serene compared to day flying. The radios are quieter and the pace is slower. Rather than fly my flight plan, I can often cut corners because there is less traffic. There is no squinting into that big yellow ball. Since I carry no passengers on my cargo MD-11, it’s just me and my co-pilot slicing the air at thirty-five thousand feet, drinking Diet Coke, and swapping stories. Never a complaint from the back.
Authors come from all walks of life and readers know little about them. That’s why I took this moment to share mine. My windscreen is my gateway to the world, my airplane, a pod circling Spaceship Earth. The next time you take a “red-eye”, you might want to check out the night sky before shutting your eyes. Every flight is different. You never know what you’ll see.